Eco-Friendly 2011: Think Forward…Then Backwards

Written by in Inspire

Start Your Eco-New Year Green. Marian Bantjes knows how.

By Guest Contributor Heather Parlato | 626-344-2756

There are many ways to reduce, reuse and recycle my way towards sustainable projects. Over the next month I would like to share a few ideas to help you think more sustainably. I welcome feedback and your own tips to share with others, too.

This recent holiday season, I created a series of holiday & thank you cards that conformed to some really great sustainable practices. I was able to do this easily by working with an eco-conscious printer that makes offers its customers sustainable options.  But what happens when you’re just getting started?  Is all the research is in front of you?

There’s much more to sustainable design and printing than choosing eco-friendly inks and papers. Much more. In fact, those making the biggest strides reducing the design industry’s impact on the waste stream are examining the design process in reverse. This kind of outside the thinking, or backwards thinking, is progressive and effective.

For example, speakers Celery Design whom I saw at HOW Design conference last summer in Denver, began by thinking about the end of things: the landfill. From there, they worked backwards, examining each project’s item as it progressed along the chain, building in the highest recyclability and safest practices along the way.  Here’s one great Rule of Thumb…

Create Demand for Useful Things

We’ve all have the best of intentions of creating pieces that are kept and used and enjoyed again and again  We want our creations to be passed on and reused rather than discarded or recycled, right? But reality is different. As recipients of promotional items and print pieces, we save only a small percentage of them. To avoid having our creations pass quickly into the remainder bin, think carefully, then think again and again about how you can make a thing that will have a purpose beyond its intial delight or surprise. Take a different approach. Make less of it. Refine your target distribution to those who will get the most out of it.  And, in some cases, advise your client against producing the physical piece but create instead something that creates demand.  Like a match that needs a strike plate. Or a needle that needs a thread. Then, design to meet both purpose and need.



Last year, Marian Bantjes decided to repurpose her holiday cards into valentine’s gifts for friends and clients. Focusing the design process on working with reclaimed materials, she had the cards laser-cut into lacy hearts and cupids.


Knowing her audience and their brainstorming ways, Dyana Valentine made this branded scoutbook a part of her new year’s gift pack, printed at pinball publishing, using recycled & FSC certified papers, soy-based inks, and running on renewable energy.


In my own (shop quest for usefulness, I decided to create thank you cards and gift tags as gifts to my clients and friends, so they got at least 2 uses total. I used dry-based toner inks for an easy de-inking process, and 100% PCW paper at eco-friendly Indie Printing.

  1. 01

    fabulous post, HP. I love the way you and Marian make sustainable sexy! I must send a shout out to Luke Mysse (crossgrain) and Joanna Holden (modularink) for helping me implement the scoutbooks. And, of course, Steve Gordon, Jr. (rdqlus) for the foundational branding that keeps on giving (hmmm, sustainable design!).

    Part of sustainability to me is creating connecting pieces. So that the piece doesn’t stop at the first destination. It continues a message, idea or feeling right through the recipient to their people and (hopefully) contributes to their work/play/life. I think it’s working; joy!

  2. 01

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Neenah Paper and Christine Flynn, MetropolitanPrinting. MetropolitanPrinting said: #Sustainably thinking forward and backwards (RT @NeenahPaper) […]

  3. 01

    thanks dyana! i loved your pack of treats, the notebook went right into my purse. i think the trick is to create something for each target group that is uniquely useful to them, better yet, second-guess things they might already buy themselves. that way, you’re showing that you understand what the want, and the piece gets used and kept. thanks for being a great example!

  4. 03

    […] Attendees of the How Design Conference in Denver last year saw Celery Design talk about examining the design process in reverse. They begin by thinking about the end of things, building in the highest recyclability and safest practices along the way. Using this example, we started this series at the end of the production chain and talked about how to focus on creating …. […]